Acton Toyota takes 1st place in the number of reviews on DealerRater.com, the leading web site where consumers review and rate automobile dealers.
Of the tens of thousands of dealers housed in the DealerRater.com database, Acton Toyota has more reviews – 1,261 and counting – than any other dealership worldwide.
No other dealership even comes close on DealerRater.com. The dealerships in second and third place have only half the number of reviews that Acton Toyota has.
Plus, Acton Toyota has a near perfect DealerRater Rating for these reviews — 4.8 out of a possible 5.0 — for customer satisfaction, quality of work, friendliness, price and overall experience. That means the overwhelming majority of these reviews are positive.
Justin and Ben are quick to share the credit for these fabulous results with Bob Moran, owner, Mike Hills, GM, and the entire staff of this family-owned, single-rooftop, single franchise dealership.
And with such great reviews, it’s not surprising that Acton Toyota ranks within the top 20 dealerships in Internet Sales nationwide — with a total of 2,240 new and used Internet unit sales for 2010. All this, with a staff of eight Internet sales consultants.
And, Justin and Ben predict a 10- to-15 % increase in Internet sales for 2011.
This savvy duo shares with Digital Dealer magazine the secret sauce for this dealership’s success in online reputation management and double-digit Internet sales growth.
How did each of you get into the business?
Justin: My uncle advised me I’d be good at sales and when I graduated in 2004, a Nissan dealership nearby had sales openings. I sold cars there for five months. When a colleague left to go to Acton Toyota, he got me an interview here.
I started at Acton Toyota in January 2005 as a sales person in the Internet division, when it was a small, stand-alone business in a strip mall adjacent to the dealership. Three years ago, when the dealership’s director of e-commerce and marketing left for another position, I took over part of his responsibilities and became e-commerce manager.
Ben: A buddy of mine’s father in the business referred me to an internship in the business development center of a Toyota dealership in Worcester, during college. I’ve always enjoyed working with people and enjoyed cars and this was an opportunity to marry the two.
When I graduated, in 2004, I reached out to him for advice. He said, ‘If you want to go to a place that does things right and you want to learn the business properly, talk to Mike Hills at Acton Toyota. So in June of 2004, I started at Acton Toyota in the Internet sales department. In November 2006, I became an F&I manager, then, after a short time, transitioned to general sales management, and then became Internet sales manager.
Justin: Ben and I work collaboratively and complement each other’s skills – sharing responsibilities for marketing and sales. It works well.
What’s your secret to success in online reputation management?
Justin: First and foremost, we take exceptional care of our customers. Our dealership’s owner, Bob Moran, and our GM Mike Hills have long preached the importance of always doing what is right for the customer. Our dealership’s reviews are so great because ownership and management demand our sales staff deliver an exceptional purchase experience and our sales staff does an excellent job of doing just that.
Then, all of us at the dealership who work with customers on a daily basis make the request that each and every one of them write reviews about us.
Our process actually starts before they even become a customer. We ask prospects to read about us on DealerRater.com before they purchase a vehicle.
Then, we ask all of our sold customers to share their experiences. We don’t just pick and choose. We know our dealership process and our sales consultants are so good we’re not worried about what they’re going to write.
We also have 30 to 180 service appointments per day and we ask each of them to write reviews on DealerRater.com too — based on our confidence they were delivered a good experience, because that’s what Acton Toyota does.
Plus, we have a rewards program that sends out surveys. If customers respond that they had a really great experience, our GM will also request, via email, that they review us on DealerRater.com.
Ben: Occasionally, we do have a negative review. If you’re going to have over 1,250 reviews online, there are going to be a few negative ones. I respond to those rare cases where someone is dissatisfied.
DealerRater.com automatically alerts us to negative reviews. As for other review sites, such as Yelp, there are at least five of us at the dealership, who check online daily for reviews. I reach out to everyone that’s written a negative review that we’re aware of, and we address their issues. They usually turn into happy customers, who will then write a positive review.
Beyond that, I’ve actually had customers visit the dealership and ask for me by name because of the way I’ve responded to another customer’s negative review. Even a negative review, if handled properly, can result in convincing a new prospect to visit your dealership and purchase from you.
How do you keep your customers mindful of your request for a review once they leave the dealership?
Ben: There is a “Rate Us” card that DealerRater gives to its certified dealers, like us, and our reconditioning center places them in the vehicle for delivery. But, I’d say we probably get more responses from the emails that go out to our customers through our CRM system.
Our CRM lets us automatically customize outgoing emails, using a template, so each email comes from the sales person who worked with that customer. And, we have links in the email to multiple review sites where customers can easily create a login and review the dealership.
We’re heavy users of our CRM. All our Internet leads and walk-ins are in it and we send out quite a bit of correspondence for sold follow up.
Your online reputation is undoubtedly one major reason for your standing within the top 20 dealerships in Internet sales units nationwide. What other factors contribute to your high Internet sales numbers?
Justin: We work hard as a team to get leads and equally hard converting them into sales. For every six leads we get, we close one sale. We get from 700 to 1,100 Internet sales leads per month. Of course, we use third party lead providers — AutoTrader.com, AutoUSA.com, Cars.com, and various sites affiliated with AutoUSA. For instance, we’re an Edmunds.com preferred dealer. We also have our inventory listed on some free site, like Google Base. We also use Dealix and UsedCars.com.
Beyond that, we have close to 25,000 people visiting our main dealership e-commerce site, monthly. They come either as direct traffic, or through a referring site. On Google Analytics, we can see which is which. We’re having a lot of success with our eCommerce site.
We also participate in pay-per-click through Dealer.com’s Total Control Dominator. It’s working out really well for us too.
We’re always looking to improve our results via all of these avenues.
How do you use SEO to improve results – to maximize leads on your e-commerce site?
Justin: We are starting to do a lot of our SEO in-house. Ben writes press releases that we publish on the Internet for any given sales special and/or dealership news. When someone is searching on a particular subject or for our dealership, those press releases act as organic links and help out with our overall SEO strategy.
Last year, we signed up with HubSpot – www.hubspot.com – a Boston-based inbound marketing strategy company, whose investors include: Google Ventures and Salesforce.com. We are working with them to make our e-commerce site more search engine friendly.
HubSpot provides us with a backend tool that lets us analyze how well our current pages’ titles are working with search engines. I’m starting to rename the page titles, which in some cases were too long, to optimize them for search engines.
Besides improving SEO to maximize the number of leads, is there anything in particular you do to improve the quality of the leads?
Justin: We believe we improve the quality of the leads by constantly making the effort to improve our presentation of the product. We figure if we provide a really detailed description, a good photograph and the right price, we’re going to turn that vehicles’ details page view into an actual lead that’s highly likely to turn into a sale.
First, if it’s a pre-owned vehicle, the price needs to be compelling enough for that customer to want to call in. Second, pictures are important. We have an in-house graphic artist and web designer, Bobbie Kemp, who takes photographs of our pre-owned inventory. He uses a Nikon SLR and we’ve invested in our own photo studio, with a backdrop suspended from the ceiling. Third, we include a call to action on the vehicle’s details page.
Once you get the leads, how quickly do you respond to them?
Ben: When a lead hits our CRM, a round robin automatically assigns the lead to a particular Internet sales rep and also notifies Justin and me. We have a senior sales manager and eight Internet sales reps who sit with Justin and me on the second floor of the dealership, and 17 general salespeople on the main floor.
Within 10 to 15 minutes, we send the prospect a price quote and answer any questions included in their request. We have templates already made up, so with the click of a mouse anyone within the department can send out an exact price quote for a vehicle. Every month, we edit these templates to make sure they are current with Toyota incentives and whatever other rebates there may be.
After the quote is sent, there is heavy communication with the prospect for the first few weeks. E-mails, which we as a dealership have written, are automatically generated by the CRM and a salesperson can also tailor what’s going out to the customer. We follow customers 120 days out.
What are your biggest challenges in Internet sales and marketing?
Justin: Making sure our Internet price quotes for used vehicles are competitive and our price quotes for new cars are aggressive – and getting them out quickly. We use vAuto to price our used vehicles, but the challenge is the follow-up.
We’re a pure Internet department. We are not a boiler room making appointments and handing them over to people on the showroom floor. Our sales people are often busy with customers when leads come in and sometimes it’s a challenge to make sure our sales people call the leads right away. Ben or I will send out the price quote immediately for that sales person, if they are busy with a customer.
Another big challenge is owning page one of the search engine results on Google and other sites.
The Internet has opened up the playing field, so we have to make sure we are always creating new, relevant content that is customer centric to keep us on top of page one of the search engine results. We are fairly dominant on page one and on the first half of page two of Google.
However, we can’t rest on past efforts. We just heard that Google has changed its search algorithm again. We’re starting to see increasing importance on the business listing side of things. So our strategy has to be ever changing, as Google is ever changing.
Ben: Someone from the dealership checks daily online to insure we have a strong presence on Google page one search results. Our GM, Mike Hills, our graphic designer Bobbie Kemp, as well as Justin and I are looking every day to improve and enhance our presence and that plays heavily into our Internet marketing success.
Internet sales and marketing is not a two-person gig. We get phone calls from Internet directors around the country wanting to know why we’re so successful – both with our reputation management and Internet sales results. We tell them: ‘It’s a collaborative effort – there are five or more of us always working on it.’
Many eCommerce directors tell us that getting their GMs to fund Internet marketing is their biggest challenge. That’s not an issue here at Acton Toyota. We have complete senior management buy-in for Internet marketing. In fact, Mike is most often the one developing new ideas and continually pushing us to do bigger and better things.
However, one big hurtle for us is ensuring that vendors we work with understand who Acton Toyota is and help deliver that message. We take great pride in being the “undealer dealer” – meaning all marketing specials we promote are 100% transparent, accurate, and real.
For example, the No Money Down leases we advertise on our web site and pay-per-click ads are complete leases. If the promotion is 15,000 miles per year for $299 per month, when a prospect arrives, we don’t add in other factors, so the $299 payment is now $350. We stay at $299. What we promote and advertise is the real deal and when customers arrive, that is exactly what they get. Our marketing messages stay consistent throughout the entire process. That unfortunately is not something that can be said for all dealers.
We know our customers are smart, short on time, and do not want to arm wrestle for a good deal. Moreover, they want a simple, honest, transparent experience they can feel good about. When they get that, they’re inclined to tell their friends about it.
How much of your budget is for Internet vs. traditional advertising?
Justin: The majority of our advertising budget – 70% – is spent online, whether it be for our web site, our pay-per-click ads, or our micro sites. 30% is split between radio and newspapers, and TV has been brought into the mix recently.
We produced a series of TV spots that aired in March and April on the local CBS, ABC and NBC affiliates and on Comcast. The spots focus on the dealership’s amenities, our accolades, our web presence and our Internet department – car shopping made easy.
The first commercial aired talks about our winning the Toyota President’s Award. The top 12 Toyota dealers in the country win this award for overall sales volume and CSI. We’ve won it back-to-back for 20 years. Probably only a handful of dealerships nationwide can make that claim.
Another TV spot shows a US map dotted with Toyota dealership logos. As the voiceover talks about different dealership accolades, the logos start to disappear until there are only 12 left and Acton Toyota is one of them. The commercial poses the question: Wouldn’t you rather do business with the local Toyota dealer that has all these accolades?
Another spot talks about the perks at our dealership, including the breakfast eggs served sunny side up in our in-house café – which is free to all our customers. Our café also serves a free light lunch for customers.
We’ll see how these TV spots work out and then decided how much to budget for this type of marketing in the future.
Right now, how much does social media factor into your success?
Justin: We’re exploring how to use social media more fully and I think it’s going to be huge for us. A lot of dealerships really don’t know how to use social media, but they’d like to use it, because everyone else is. We don’t feel we have to use social media because everyone else is. We’re using it because, in some areas, we can see results now and we expect to see even bigger results down the road.
What kind of results do you see right now with Twitter and Facebook?
Justin: Our Twitter strategy is evolving. We hadn’t been using Twitter a lot. A year and a half ago, we created a couple of different Twitter accounts and planned to tweet when we had photographs to share, or had an article published. We quickly learned that we weren’t able to consistently be active on Twitter.
Generally, we don’t buy into or adopt certain technologies, if we really don’t think they are going to deliver us measureable results. However, we now see Twitter becoming more and more important to search engines, because of the sense of immediacy it offers. People want news immediately and tweets are picked up for SEO value.
I’d probably say one of the fastest ways, besides a press release, that you push out information is a tweet. A tweet can be picked up by Google the same day it’s written and have an immediate impact on SEO.
Our GM Mike Hills could really add a lot of value by tweeting on hot topics. Mike has his finger on the pulse of the industry. So, going forward, we are evolving a new strategy with more Twitter engagement. It’s going to become important to our SEO survival.
Ben: We are just now starting to develop a stronger and more substantial Facebook presence. With coaching from HubSpot, we’re going to be implementing a landing page for all customers that will prompt them to “like” us.
Immediately after they “like” us, a form will appear with a special offer in exchange for their contact information, which will feed right over to HubSpot. So we can immediately start marketing to them. We expect this strategy will give us more viewership, more visitors, more “likes” and, hopefully, more customers.
There are a lot of self-proclaimed experts talking about the revenue they’re generating off of Facebook. I seriously question the validity of such claims. We’re not that dealership.
When we have some real results –which we can already start seeing because of our blog post – we’ll talk about them.
Tell us about your blog.
Ben: Every time we publish a blog post on our Facebook Fan page, we’re seeing an increase in visitors there, and in turn on our e-commerce site. Our blog offers non-salesy, friendly and informative content. http://www.actontoyota.com/blog/index.htm
We have an interesting dynamic for it. I write 50% of the blog content consisting of educational/how to stories: how to install your floor mats properly; how to decide on leasing vs. buying, etc.
We’ve hired an independent automotive writer, Kurt Gensheimer, in California who writes the other 50% — manufacturer and vehicle specific stories – on the new Toyota sports car, or Prius family, etc.
Justin designs the layout and our graphic artist creates the graphics. So it’s a collaborative effort. The response to the blog so far has been great!
What do you see for the future?
Ben: Acton Toyota will continue to excel for many more years to come. I personally believe in a few years time our dealership will become the top volume Toyota dealership in all of New England. Superior ownership, management, and sales consultants will be the reason.
Justin: So long as we have Mike running the dealership, under Bob Moran’s leadership, and Ben, Bobbie and myself in the Internet department, and our energetic sales and service team providing great cars and great service, I see our Internet sales growing every year and our customers continuing to give us more great reviews. We’re all about teamwork at Acton Toyota.